Four-star hotel approved in Villa St Ignatius

Objectors denounce breach of local plan which specifically does not allow hotels in residential areas

A 3D render of the proposed redevelopment of Villa St Ignatius
A 3D render of the proposed redevelopment of Villa St Ignatius

The Planning Authority has approved an application transforming Villa St Ignatius in the Balluta area into a four-star hotel which also includes plans for the construction of three additional set-back floors at the back of the villa, to accommodate hotel rooms and suites.

The development was approved despite local plan policies which designates the site as a residential area and which specifically bans hotel developments in such areas.

The development was approved by nine votes against one, on the premise that the redevelopment of the building in to a hotel with a sensitive design, would allow the restoration of the building.

According to the local plan hotels are not listed as acceptable uses in residential areas but the case officer still recommended approval citing another policy supporting regeneration initiatives. The case officer argued that the hotel proposal “will contribute to the upkeep and conservation of the site without compromising its heritage features”.

The development to turn the dilapidated building in to a 64-room hotel is being proposed by developer Paul Gauci. The development foresees an additional three floors on the back of the building which will be restored.

The hotel will include a restaurant and breakfast/bar area, an outdoor heated pool and deck area, a spa, an exhibition space, two levels of multi-purpose hall area, an outdoor catering area within the front garden, and two levels of underground parking.

The Planning Authority approved the redevelopment despite a pending decision on a request to schedule the building.

Lawyer and nearby resident Franco Vassallo, strongly objected to the project, saying that according to the North Harbour Local Plan, the site was in a residential area.

READ ALSO: Residents rally to preserve historic Villa St Ignatius amidst development threats

“It is absurd that in order to restore the building we will break the law… if you accept this application, you’ll be breaching the law,” he warned during the meeting. Lawyer Claire Bonello also made similar objections.

The permit for Villa St Ignatius was granted after the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage changed its original position that the building should be scheduled before any decision on development on the site is taken. A request to schedule it has been pending since 2017.

Architect Antoine Zammit, who specialises in the conservation of historical properties, explained that the proposed development was adding value to the run-down 19th-century villa.

Moreover, according to Zammit the development as proposed makes a clear distinction between the historic parts of the villa which will be preserved and restored with the new additions being proposed on annexes that were added at a later stage.

He also argued that a hotel development made more sense than a residential development which could have seen the development of the villas’ front garden which would have ended up enveloping the villa itself. Instead, the proposal was limited to additions to the villa and the development of adjacent land.

“Our intention is to give more value to the villa, retaining its front garden and creating a public space where people can appreciate its beauty of this villa,” he said.

The villa in Scicluna Street in San Giljan is part of a larger property which once housed the first Jesuits’ College in Malta, which was already mentioned as a landmark building in an 1839 account of Malta.

The villa was the subject of controversy in November 2017 when a wing of the historic villa was partly demolished on the pretext that it contained dangerous structures.